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Asseemblage for Collective Thought

Asseemblage for Collective Thought

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An article published in the Spanish art journal Aminima
An article published in the Spanish art journal Aminima

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: andersand on Feb 13, 2012
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02/13/2012

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Assembling Collective Thought

Anna Munster and Andrew Murphie ACT - assemblage for collective thought – is an ongoing conceptual and aesthetic collaboration, an assemblage of technologies and techniques for collaboration. It enables participants to think collectively. By "think" here we do include thinking conceptually. However, following a century that has had to come to terms with thinking through aesthetic processes, we also mean thinking affectively, via images, texts and sounds. More than this, ACT asks what kind of thought is produced in the mix - in the middle of the very act of collaboration, when DJing, VJing, dancing in front of a camera perhaps, are all opened up to the mix. Is there a different quality of thought? A different experience of thinking? An especially collaborative thought? So much new media composition and production still concerns itself with technological conduits and infrastructure. We wanted to fashion a kind of assemblage that explored new media to produce new concepts. The assemblage, then, had to be mediated via technologies and software such as wikis, distributed media sites and servers and video and audio editing and remixing packages. But none of these are the focus of or rationale for ACT. New media as various systems of technics (that is, the deployment of technologies as part of the constitution of ourselves as humans, sentient beings and subjectivities) are seen as some 'collaborators' among others in this project. Although not autonomous, the machines and technologies we deploy in making mediated concepts play a part in changing and shaping the collectivity of ACT's thinking processes. We found ourselves following particular pathways in the process of collaboration and in remixing all the media material for ACT performances as a result of both the potentialities and constraints of the media assemblages we contrived and which contrived us.

Screenshot from 'Task 4: Become empirical - radically' of the ACT wiki ACT began in 2006, using rich and networked media, remix software and techniques. Its first manifestation involved a small group of invited participants who work with text, video, audio and software in and on collaboration: Dragana Antic, Michele Barker, Gillian Fuller, Mathew Fuller, Lisa Gye, Ross Harley, Brett Nielsen, Anna Munster, Andrew Murphie, Kate Richards, Trebor Scholz and Mat WallSmith. For a two week period during June 2006, this group contributed to a structured wiki by responding to 'tasks' concerning collaborative thought, relations and partnerships. Material deposited in the wiki space and in external web publishing portals such as YouTube and Multiply was downloaded, reformatted (text was converted to audio, for example) and taken into VJing and DJing packages. It

was then re-presented as two different remixes at the ISEA 2006 (International Symposium of Electronic Arts), ZeroOne San Jose Festival in San Jose on August 12 as the final performance/event of the ISEA Symposium. The mixes took place using the sound system of the large auditorium, along with its three large screens and many flat screen televisions distributed throughout the audience. In the first mix, brain scans met low-res video of dogs fetching sticks from the water, animated graffiti and a morphed video looping between Immanual Kant and Robert Moog (both champions of synthesis). Carefully modulated computer vocalisations of texts about honey as the result of making collective thought 'in the hive' met transmissions caught from Messier74, "a spiral galaxy that makes up part of the Pisces constellation" (Mat Wall-Smith). The latter were caught, "using a satellite dish (mixing bowl) and some custom electronics". The second remix of the material followed directly afterwards and included the use of live feeds camera and microphone available for use by the audience on the day.These were remixed into, and used to trigger different visual effects upon, the ACT material. The audience brought cut-out shapes and textures (such as scrunched plastic), objects (cigarette lighters), their faces, their dancing bodies, into the mix in real time. After the performance, one of the audience members commented on the visual effect of mixing pre-produced material with live audience participation. She noted that this gave a kind of layering effect to the mix, where 'hi-tech' met 'lo-tech' and that what was interesting about that kind of remixing was they way it visually revealed the material strata of media technologies.

This initial collaboration and performance comprise the first stage in an ongoing production of assemblages that thinks collectively - assemblages through which you think, which think through you, and which "evolve" along with shifts in thought. With this initial event we are dipping our toes into the technozoosemiotic "ether" within which diverse and rapidly mutating semiotic forms, along with diverse mediated and collective practices, have drawn breath. The aim for the future is for divergent forms of ACT to take on a life of their own. Maybe in a DVD-ROM that is infinitely remixable and which helps you take your thoughts places you never expected. Maybe in a shifting online database of media elements, codes, and evolving tags (thanks to Kate Richards for this idea..). ACT also stages the inevitable tensions raised between "forced collaboration" and "free cooperation" in thought production with other humans and nonhumans. At the same time, in constantly returning the process of collaboration to the mix, it attempts to draw collaboration away from the temptation to freeze the process in one iteration of it. There is a sense in which ACT only occurs within the movement of the images and sounds, the bodies thinking through the encounters within this mix. Collaboration here is indeed forced, but in a very different sense to common network models of collaboration in infocapitalism; that is, where everyone profits by pooling their pre-existing institutional needs for funding and recognition. In ACT, collaborators are propelled into the mix, away from pre-existing stances, assumptions and forms of recognition. Cooperation is free - although here freedom is only the freedom to cooperate in forms of expression here and now. Cooperation is also premised on the project itself - commitment to its continuation, deformation and mutation rather than to obligation to other players. Freedom is also freedom to leave the project and the mix without remorse and regret, to take the project somewhere else, to let the project continue without an individual's presence. ACT responds to the stagnation of new media orthodoxies as these rapidly fall back into a sometimes high tech version of old media efficient communications bound up with new forms of property. It is also a response to the provocations of the like of Trebor Scholz, Geert Lovink and Christoph Spehr, concerning new forms of collaboration and the need to open up these within new media. Scholz, Spehr, Lovink and others held a conference on Free Cooperation where the idea of using networks and art to explore processual collaboration was worked through. In a similar way, we hope that ACT will remain responsive to change, to the fact that, as Brian Massumi puts it, "change changes" constantly (Parables for the Virtual: 10).

The processes of making and remaking ACT felt like thinking collectively. Not only ideas, but images evolved, mutated, merged, diverged. The mix was a constant surprise, especially when it involved the audience - there was a real sense that thinking was occurring collaboratively. One could never say "that's beautiful and I made it", only "that's beautiful" or even, "that's awful but that's what happened through the project and in the mix".

There was some stringency needed to realise a colloborative working space, especially as we wanted to enact it remotely. We had to really think through the tasks in both rigorous and open term and provide formats and 'rules' for images, video, length of text and so on. The latter were, of course, ignored from the beginning, although not, we are pleased to say, the former. So whereas rules were transgressed, tasks were committed to – a nice balance. Each task had its own wiki page, with an extra page for an optional related task. Of course, ACT is infinitely open to other tasks, but the recent version had six: 1. Return to Nature Task 1. Collaborate with the natural world Find a relationship in nature which assists you to produce thought, image, video or sound. Produce the text, images, video or sound and leave them below. Task 1.1 optional. Become either cellular or marine in your mode of collaborating. 2. Be Passionate Task 2. Be passionate with another Give vent to any passion that was produced in relation to another living or nonliving thing. Leave your response below. Task 2.1 optional. Make it almost monochrome. 3. Work the Abstract Task 3. Create an abstract collaborative relationship By this we mean you could also do something very concrete, like using sound to feedback on itself and modify the original signal in order to embody the abstract process of modulation. Task 3.1 optional Modulate the modulation. 4. Become Empirical - Radically Task 4. Work the real, experienced relations in a radical empiricism, as per William James Only deal with the real relations and the transitional experience involved. "To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as anything else in the system. Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement." (William James, Essays in Radical Experience:42) Task 4.1 optional record the changes in your immediate relations. 5. Re-Assemble the Assemblage Task 5. Re-assemble the assemblage Create changes in the social and technical assemblages so that all the elements participate differently. Task 5.1 optional Make the assemblage cycle. 6. Conserve the Virtual Task 6. Make a contribution to virtual ecology Do your bit for conservation - make something that preserves or enriches our relations to the virtual. By the virtual we mean the real reservoir of relations between all the different potentials in the assemblage.

Task 6.1 optional ...in 3 seconds

Screenshot from 'task 1: Return to nature' of the ACT wiki ACT is special not in its originality, but in its tendencies - its very own desire to keep changing, to diverge, to find new homes and turn them upside down, to try things out, to break down (the eternal accident of mix technologies as they stretch the assemblage), to reform differently. One of these tendencies is movement away from the proprietal, from funding regulation - towards the new emerging culture of constant co-creation which truly makes mass media redundant. Its politics is something like that of an open source, multi-mediated, cross-signal processing folk culture. But it does not value 'openeness' per se. Rather it wants to contribute to an ecology of media practices that respects the interrelations of open and closed systems and the elements that comprise and cut across all of these. ACT is desperate to break out of the academy with its specialisation and management of performance. We think it would work well in clubs where a space and time for thought might just add something to that mix.

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